It has become a requisite part of writing celebrity profiles that pieces must mention what a subject is wearing; a frequently fashionable and ultimately easy way to stress the star’s brand and what he or she is trying to convey.
T.J. Miller walked into an interview with Complex and other journalists wearing a black suit, a chain necklace and oversized bronzed glasses while carrying a drink and a rubber chicken. When I asked him to clarify if the amber substance in his glass was beer or apple juice, he responded “neither.”
He was there as part of press day to promote The Gorburger Show, the Funny or Die webseries that recently moved to Comedy Central in which he voices an enormous politically incorrect blue alien who has taken over a Japanese talk show. This stunt—and, let’s be honest, the show itself—is another example of what audiences have come to expect from the extremely loud and incredibly productive comic who has a new special, Meticulously Ridiculous, premiering June 17 on HBO and is also known for roles in movies like Deadpool and Cloverfield, TV shows like Silicon Valley and Crashing, voicing the annoying ball of cartoon snot that’s seen in Mucinex commercials and, just last month, looked like a floating stack of cheddar cheese when he parasailed into Cannes (he pronounces it with an overemphasized and hard “k” sound) in a yellow tuxedo to champion his upcoming animated feature, The Emoji Movie.
Whew. If you were able to comprehend all of the credits in that quite long sentence without pausing, then you might have a glimpse of understanding life as the human Energizer Bunny that is Miller—someone who had just made his bodyguard take part in his 3:30 a.m. quest for hamburgers because he was too jet-lagged for his stomach to know what time it was.
“A lot of people look at me and think ‘well he’s a standup [comedian]; he must crave attention.’ That’s not the case,” Miller tells me later that day. “I think a lot of people think ‘he’s ridiculous; he’s always on’ … There isn’t this need to be on. I just feel better when people are laughing. I like when people laugh. I’m not particularly interested in what I have to say about really serious topics unless they’re funny.”
Instead, he argues matter-of-factly, “one of the things that drives me is that I have a stronger work ethic than anyone in the business [except] maybe Amy [Schumer] and Aziz [Ansari].” And while you may think Miller has either a giant ego or absolutely no self-awareness for him to casually first-name check two of the biggest comedians in the business without a hint of modesty, he would probably argue this is his honest assessment of what it takes to persevere in this industry after years of toiling on the stand-up circuit.
“Standup is a tough business,” he says, but hey “so is being a soldier or a traveling watch salesman. Other jobs are tough. It depends on the ideology that’s driving it. For some people, there is a masochistic element. For some people like Pete Holmes, one of my great friends [and the creator of Crashing], there is a people-pleasing, wanting attention, wanting people to like you, wanting something from other people.”
But this is also exactly the kind of attitude that makes Miller so attractive to so many projects. The story goes that he signed onto Gorburger when executive producer Sean Boyle, after having a few to drink at the downtown Los Angeles bar Villains, saw him outside and flew out of the tavern to pitch him on the spot. Gorburger co-creator Ryan McNeely says the trademark-pending T.J. Miller Personality you see on screen or, in the case of our interview, sitting next to a protective publicist, is “95-percent the way he is.”
“When he goes on stage, he is filled with this super hero power of energy,” McNeely says, adding they had just been together at San Francisco’s comedy and music-themed Clusterfest “and you see that dude go from interview to podcasts to a standup show … At a certain point, you’re like Jesus Christ, man. When it’s time for him to perform and he’s exhausted, he just gets this new energy. It’s pretty incredible.”
And while Miller hasn’t enjoyed all of the people he’s worked with on his projects – he’s still not a fan of Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who worked with him on the failed Comedy Central series, Mash Up—the Gorburger love is real and mutual. Specifically, Miller loves that he gets to play a character who can say all the things he (and any respectful human) can’t, i.e. one who “believes that Usher is the greatest dancer that ever lived and that it’s really important to ask Flea how you have a successful relationship with coworkers and has asked Henry Rollins to describe the American government.”
But he also knows that it’s starting to be too much, saying at one point “I have already saturated the market to the point where I’m sick of my own voice and I talk a lot.” Soon after these interviews took place, news broke that Miller was leaving Silicon Valley, Mike Judge, et al’s lampoon of the tech industry that made him a household name thanks to his portrayal of bong-toting, self-promoting man-child Erlich Bachman. The departure is said to be amicable, with Miller’s publicist denying requests for elaboration and HBO not responding to email inquiries. But you don’t really have to read the pot leaves to see that it was coming.
“It’s become pretty exhausting, but I’ve taken some steps recently to back off of work,” Miller says, adding “My answer—and I had thought of this—was I’m doing it for love because of my wife, Kate. I’ve known her since college and for years, she’s been ‘you have to stop working so much.’ For years, I’ve been saying, ‘I’m going to work less.’ And it’s true.”
Miller, who isn’t one to shy away from sharing his opinions—witness his drawn-out feud with the Uber driver/supposed Trump supporter he had an altercation with last winter—says he has a “mission statement that people need to laugh because this is a real goddamn disaster right now. Sorry. It’s a real goddamn catastrophe.” But he’s looking to other mediums.
He says he “needs to write books” and that he looks to the success his friend Chelsea Handler has had with her best-sellers. They taught him that “I can talk to people in airports if I just have books that are page-turners and put forth progressive ideals and show my comedic perspective. I am kind of heading to that, I hope, in my ‘50s and ‘60s if I live that long.”
Because, Miller says, “nothing comes before it being funny.”
“It can be funny and then it can have a message … it’s no holds barred when it comes to something that fits and is on brand,” he says. “Then, in the publication write: he pulled out a shotgun, pointed at his head and just a ‘bang’ sign came out. And on the back of the sign, it just said ‘sorry about that ...’”
And with that and seeing little need for further pronouncements, Miller exited the interview for his next destination: filming promos for Comedy Central.